Joburg Expat: 2015

December 21, 2015

One of Johannesburg's Best Suburbs

This week's post will be short and sweet, but - so I think - all the more informative for the prospective expat in Johannesburg.

I often get asked what I think is the most important question any expat faces: Where should we look for a house? What is the best place to live?

Of course this is impossible to answer definitively, as it depends on so many factors - work, school, budget, lifestyle, size, etc. But often it's also hard to find good information about a particular suburb you might be looking at.

Therefore, I was thrilled to come across this promotional video about the suburb of Lonehill that I think very effectively gives prospective residents an idea of what life there might look like. It's an area a little south of Dainfern right off of William Nicol Drive, an up-and-coming neighborhood that I think still flies a little under the radar of the expat crowd and therefore might offer a better overall value than the mainstays of Dainfern and Fourways Gardens. See for yourself:



Lonehill has many great things going for it. Have you ever been to the Lonehill Koppies? I had lived in Joburg for a year before figuring out that not 5 minutes from our house there was this cool nature reserve right in between shopping malls and residential areas which I believe some naturalists bill as one of Joburg's prime bird watching spots.

Lonehill is also an open suburb as opposed to the surrounding enclosed estates. I recall visiting a friend there once and being amazed that I could drive up to her house without the tedious security procedures we associate with living in South Africa. This doesn't mean that Lonehill is any more dangerous. In fact, it's billed as one of Joburg's safest open suburbs. You can read more about Lonehill in this informative article on Property24.

I don't know if Lonehill is the right place for you. But if I was moving to Johannesburg, I'd give it a serious look. It's within easy reach of the American International School to the north and several excellent South African private schools to the south. There is convenient shopping all around, restaurants, cafes, the mall, and well, the Koppies (if you're not familiar with South African lingo, a koppie is a little hill and the word is often used for nature reserves that are strewn around cities like Johannesburg).

For further reading on where to live in Johannesburg, I suggest the following:

Finding a House in Johannesburg: Part 1. Questions you should be asking yourself in preparing to move to Johannesburg.

Finding a House in Johannesburg: Part 2. Includes a comprehensive listing of Joburg suburbs and a description of each.

Where to Live: Dainfern or Dainfern Valley? If you are dead-set on living in either of those two neighborhoods, this might sway you one way or another. Hint: We lived in one of them.

Private Schools in Johannesburg. There is a reason this is Joburg Expat's top-rated post with 60,000 page views. Selecting a school often comes before selecting your suburb, so this is a good place to start.

Sandton Field and Study Centre: Boring Name, Beautiful Park. A great article by 2Summers about another one of Joburg's lesser-known nature reserves, if living close to a nature reserve is important to you.

December 14, 2015

About Waking up as an Expat in a New Land, about Hadedas, and about Joburg Expat the Book

For some reason I've had a succession of hadeda stories land in my inbox this week. First there was Heather's story on 2Summers about her beautiful new hadeda tattoo. I'm not one to get tattoos, and even if I were, I'm not sure I'd pick the image of the hadeda ibis as my first one. But I have to admit it's absolutely beautiful, more beautiful than most tattoos I've ever seen.

Then there was the Wall Street Journal story by Patrick McGroarty, who I actually know from our Joburg Days, discussing how hadedas came to Johannesburg, how people love and hate these birds in equal measure, how they keep at bay an even more reviled Joburg creature, and how they, much like everyone else in Joburg, are suffering from this year's severe drought.

Baaaad idea! Our cat Maus was curious here. She never went after hadedas, but she got a
little close that time and was lucky to escape unscathed.

Reading so much about hadedas, I was reminded that I too have written about them on my blog. But more importantly, it reminded me of the draft for a book that is sitting somewhere on my computer, untouched for many months, the story of Joburg Expat if you will. When I typed up the first few lines after returning from South Africa (and when another book, Kilimanjaro Diaries, hadn't yet consumed all my attention) I brainstormed about a way to begin my story. It didn't take long to find the perfect beginning, because the scene was still in my mind as vividly as I'd experienced it on that first morning waking up in a strange new land.

Can you guess who features in that opening paragraph without ever being named? Read on...


Joburg Expat the Book, Chapter One

African Night


I am wide awake, staring at the walls of what is to be our bedroom for the next few years. I can’t sleep, even though it can’t be past four in the morning. There is too much noise around me. I was woken by what sounded like a pig being slaughtered, and now a dog is barking incessantly, answered by more dogs somewhere in the distance. I twist and turn, careful not to disturb Noisette, my dear husband and the one to blame, if I were to lay blame, for my predicament. Without him, we wouldn’t suddenly find ourselves on the other side of the world, as far removed from our quiet suburban life in Kansas as I could ever have imagined. I don’t know how he does it, sleeping on the plane and then sleeping again at night.

The occasional car is making its way down the hill from Diepsloot, engine humming, its light beams illuminating the bedroom ceiling. My thoughts wander to what we were told about that place, an impoverished township right next to one of Johannesburg’s wealthiest suburbs on the northern outskirts of town. Before we even quite left the airport after landing two days ago, we were warned to never set foot in Diepsloot or any other township if we cared for our lives. In fact, it’s a miracle we moved here at all. When the prospect first came up – it now seems such a long time ago, even though barely six months have passed – I went online to Google South Africa, and my jaw dropped. The country was a cesspit of crime and we were going to be murdered for sure if we dared set foot on its shores.

But now that we are here, I’m much less concerned with the prospect of my own murder. What really frightens me is the murder of whatever it was that made this horrible noise just a minute ago, in the wee hours of the morning. It was a blood-curdling screech, not human, not animal. At least not any animal I’ve ever encountered in my life. If I have to listen to this racket every night, there is no way I’ll close an eye while living in this country.

I also can’t sleep because a million to-dos are churning around my head. Today I’ll have to buy food to fill our bare refrigerator. I’ll have to figure out where the grocery shops are. And I’ll have to figure out how to get to one because Noisette will take our rental car to drive to work, his new job already stressful beyond expectations. Before any of that, I’ll have to walk the kids to their new school and hope that none of them have a meltdown over not knowing where to go or wearing the wrong piece of school uniform, a real possibility for someone so unacquainted with preppy blazers and plaid skirts as our family.

By now the screeching outside has reached a cacophony, and I slide out from under the covers and quietly sneak outside onto the spacious balcony. It’s still devoid of any furniture, which along with the rest of our household is crammed into a 40-foot container that is presumably headed toward the Cape of Good Hope and won’t arrive for weeks. I lower myself against the tiled wall, carefully avoiding what I only now realize is a blanketing of bird shit. When I look up I can see why: The terrace is covered by a roof made from a row of beautiful wooden beams. A veritable invitation to pigeons. Maybe that’s what woke me up? But I quickly discard the idea. That otherworldly scream still reverberating through my bones cannot have issued from a pigeon.

And then the most glorious thing happens, something that lets me forget the lack of sleep, the murderous shrieking, the fretting about things to come: A sliver of orange rises over the horizon, first tiny, then impossibly fast growing into a glorious ball of fire. The sun has risen over Africa.

Starting out the day with this special view from my bird-dropping-covered perch, I just know that everything will be alright today. And possibly for the next three years.

I hope you enjoyed the first installment and welcome your comments. Maybe they can spur me on to write the other chapters so I can bring you another book, as so many have requested. Thank you for reading - it is you, my readers, who inspire me to put words on a page day after day!


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December 7, 2015

Patience vs Efficiency

I'm going to go out on a bit of a controversial limb and make the kind of generalization I myself have warned about. Generalizations lead to prejudices, and prejudices are the foundation of racism.

But one thing that makes expat life so interesting is that you do get to observe how other cultures foster behaviors different from our own, and often that teaches us something worth knowing about ourselves.

Most Africans (and yes, by that I mean black Africans) are patient. Very, VERY patient, in fact. If you see the kinds of queues people stand in on a Friday afternoon, especially at month's end, waiting for a taxi to take them home, you cannot help but marvel at such stoicism. Me, I would pull my hair out after about 10 minutes. Maybe 30 minutes if I'd brought along my Kindle. Let's not even talk about what Noisette would do.

What makes them so patient? Is it their upbringing? Is it that years of living under apartheid required of you to be very patient or you'd go insane? Or have they realized, better than the rest of the world, that patience is often the easiest path to happiness, or if not happiness, then contentment? Judging by all the white-toothed smiles you encounter so abundantly on any given day in Africa, that last one might be closest to the truth.

In general, I would say whites are more impatient than blacks, though South African whites of course are a lot more patient than us expats. Patience is a virtue every Africa-bound expat has to acquire sooner or later, or he'll go insane. I like to call it Type A Remedial School. In Africa, we learn to shrug and say "Welcome to Africa" and move on. Back home, we like to  yell at someone, fume until steam comes out of our ears, and expend a lot of energy nursing our anger.

Our first understanding for the need of patience came on our first safari at Yellow Wood Game Lodge, where it rained and rained and rained (hard to believe now that there is a severe drought) so that we were stuck at the lodge most of the time, not able to go out. When we finally were able to see our first giraffes and rhinos, the reward for our patience was awesome.

I'm a fairly patient person, and Africa has made me even more so. However, certain things I can't change about myself. If I can get there by walking faster, for instance, I will walk faster rather than slower. There is always something I want to get done, so speeding things up to get through with it is the ultimate goal. But that is just my Western, white, attitude. I could never ever sit by the roadside under a tree all day, as I've seen SO many times when touring the African countryside. I just couldn't. There would always be something more meaningful I could pass the time with.

Maybe you could argue that I'm just spoiled, always having something at my disposal to pass the time with, like my phone or a computer or even simply a book. But I don't think that's all of it. I think, in our Western culture, we are just raised in a way to keep ourselves busy. To show something for the time we've passed. Except of course if you're a teenager. Then you are perfectly content to sleep until 11:30, take a 45-minute shower, eat something, take a nap, eat a bit more, and spend the rest of the day depleting your parents' internet bandwidth watching YouTube videos.

Patience is definitely a virtue, and I have great admiration for patient people. However, there can be too much of a good thing. What is patience to one can be disrespect to the other. For instance, being told that everything will be fine and to wait until Just Now, whenever that might be, is greatly annoying when you know something COULD be done, if only there was a will. Many a South African government agency or utility could be run so much more efficiently without the automatic assumption that consumers will be patient. American customer service is often so superior because it has the customer at its center. Doesn't matter if you share the customer's' beliefs. The customers are always right, and they are probably impatient for a solution, so you better find one.

So much in South Africa could run better and faster if only people were a lot more impatient. Impatience has bred a lot of change in the world, and we like to think of it as progress. But if South Africa become more impatient and perhaps more efficient, would it lose some of its charm? No doubt.

I wonder if there is some kind of middle ground on that spectrum between patience on the one side, and efficiency on the other, and a peak of whatever curve  you draw between the two. The ideal center.

Maybe expat life is so rewarding  because it allows you to approach such an ideal center between cultural extremes.

November 30, 2015

More on Retired Person's Visa, Financial Requirements for Permanent Residence, and Purchasing Property in South Africa

Q: Can I Purchase Property in South Africa?


This question was recently asked by a reader. I knew that the answer was yes, as I have a friend who purchased a home in Dainfern after their lease ran out, but didn't know much else about the details.

Lucky for me, I have another reader, Jeff from the U.S., who is weighing whether to retire in South Africa, and he has done a ton of research. He was generous enough for me to share his answers, which I have incorporated into this blog post as the following Q&A:

A: Yes, expats CAN purchase property in South Africa. I know for a fact that permanent residents can purchase property and can even own investment properties like holiday rentals, but you will have to abide by all relevant tax laws when doing so. I don't know if holders of temporary residency permits under the retired persons' category can purchase property or not. You can contact a professional service like Intergate Immigration if you'd like. That is the company I deal with and I have been very pleased with the information they have provided.
My first reader then had a number of other questions regarding visas and permanent residence. I address many of these questions in my post about applying for a visa in South Africa, but here are more of Jeff's answers re visas and permanent residence:

Q: Should I apply for permanent residence or the temporary retired person's visa? How long does each take?
A: Most people who apply for the temporary retired persons' permit also apply for the permanent residency permit as well. It is recommended you do this at the same time due to the long approval times. At present it can take up to 24 months to get a permanent residency permit. The temporary retired persons' permit takes between 8 to 12 weeks. However this sometimes happens much faster. I have heard of people getting their permits in a matter of days but this is rare and you can't count on it. By applying for both at the same time you can go ahead and move once the temporary permit is granted and not have to worry about the permanent permit, just go pick it up when it comes in. Some sites can be confusing on this last point as they give the impression all permits have to be picked up from consulate offices in your country of origin but that isn't true. You file in your home country, pick up the temporary permit once it is granted and then go ahead and move to SA. Then (usually much later), once your permanent residency is approved, you can pick up that permit at the Department of Home Affairs in SA.
The next question deals with income requirements. There are different requirements based on which visa category you apply for. There is a retired person's route and an independently wealthy route, and some of this is highlighted in my recent post How We Retired in South Africa. But read on for some Jeff's more specific answers.

Q: What exactly are the income requirements for the retired person's visa?
A: For the temporary retired person's permit you need to prove income equivalent to 37,000 ZAR per month per applicant (i.e. a married couple would have to prove 74,000 ZAR per month). This can be from a pension, rental income, cash or cash equivalents. It does not have to come from a single source, it can be in any combination you like. Regardless of how you do it, you have to prove enough income to meet the total amount for the entire 4 years the permit is good for. So even if you did not have an actual monthly income but had cash or cash equivalents that totaled 1,776,000 ZAR (37,000 per month for 48 months) you would be good to go. At the end of the 4 years you could apply for renewal in which case you would have to prove that you had enough money to meet the total for a further 4 years.
Q: How about income requirements for permanent residency?
A: At this point it would be wise for me to point out that you cannot use a capital asset or lump cash sum to meet income requirements for the permanent residency permit for retired persons. The 37,000 ZAR per month per applicant would have to be lifelong guaranteed. Now, if your financial situation does not meet the criteria for permanent residency under the retired persons' category you still have another option. You can apply for a financially independent permit. Under this permit you can get permanent residency if you can prove assets totaling 12 million ZAR or more. Unlike the 37,000 ZAR, I don't think the 12 million is per applicant so the amount should be the same even for married couples. It used to be slightly higher for a married couple (17M) but they must have changed it because I couldn't find any reference to a different amount. You don't have to relocate these assets to SA, you can keep them in any jurisdiction you choose. Also, there is no tax on your accumulated assets other than ongoing requirements in terms of income tax and capital tax, and only then if you are deemed a South African resident for tax purposes (which you likely will be but don't worry about that as the USA and SA have a tax treaty that keeps you from being double taxed).  An added benefit of the financially independent permit is that you are free to work, invest, start a business, volunteer, and do pretty much anything else a South African citizen can do except vote or run for office. There is, however, one little downside and that is that there is an additional one-time fee of 120,000 ZAR that has to be paid to Home Affairs once the permit is granted. This fee is in addition to the standard 1,250 ZAR application fee. It is not too bad considering you only have to pay it if your application is approved. You pay the 1,250 ZAR up front and then the remaining 120,000 ZAR upon approval. This is an improvement over the old rules that required the larger sum up front and was non-refundable if you were refused a permit.
Q: That is quite a lot of money!
A: If all of these numbers seem daunting remember that the US dollar is worth considerably more than the rand. At current exchange rates the dollar equivalents (rounded up to the nearest dollar) are $107 for the standard application fee, $2,613 per month per applicant for the temporary retired person's permit ($125,401 total for the 4 years), $847,441 total assets for the financially independent permanent residency permit, and $8,473 one-time fee for that permit if approved. These amounts may change in the future as they have done before so it is good to keep up to date. In fact I kind of expect the required amount of income or assets to increase at some point in the coming years because the value of the rand keeps dropping.
Q: So what would be your advice for someone intending to retire in South Africa?
A: My advice would be to go for a permanent residency permit (retired or financially independent depending on how you have your assets structured) and apply for the temporary residency permit for retired persons at the same time so you don't have to wait forever before getting to emigrate. Also, it would be a good idea to buy rather than rent. The reason I say this is because of some of the political tensions in SA regarding these issues. Immigration laws are constantly in flux and part of the problem is that a lot of voters want less immigration but the government knows that SA needs more of the right kind of immigrants (skilled workers and wealthy retirees). So the rules tend to ebb and flow; they get stricter for a while and then they get more lax. If you get a permanent residency permit then you don't have to worry about future changes in the law. As long as you are a law abiding resident they can't try to make you leave. Regarding property, there is a popular notion among the general populace in SA and encouraged by the politicians that the rise in housing prices in recent years is due to rich foreign buyers bidding the prices up and that regular South Africans cannot afford to buy property. This is a fantasy but it sells well at election time. There has been talk of passing laws banning or restricting the purchasing of real estate by foreign nationals. So far it hasn't gotten beyond the talking stage and I doubt anything will come of it because of opposition by the banking and construction industries, but for expats who can afford it I would recommend buying as any legal changes will apply to future activity and won't be retroactive. 
Thanks Jeff for all the legwork on these questions, and thank you to all the readers of Joburg Expat to keep these topics at the forefront so we can provide important answers to future expats! Also, I'd like to once again include the link to where you will find all the SA visa applications online, since for some reason Home Affairs has taken them down its own website: http://www.savisas.com/south-africa-visa-application-form/

November 27, 2015

11 More Things to Put on your Shopping List for South Africa

My previous post, 19 Things to Put on your Shopping List for South Africa, proved quite popular. Everyone jumped in and had another item they wanted to add to my list, particularly in the food department. Every nationality feels quite strongly about their particular foods.

So I thought I'd give you Part Two featuring all those essential reader additions. It's Black Friday today. There is no better time to go online and do some serious shopping. Click on any of the links below and it'll take you straight to Amazon. It's also a great way to support this blog. Any item you buy on Amazon when linking from here gives me some advertising $$ back. If you've enjoyed reading my stories, heading to Amazon straight from a link on my blog is a great way to show your appreciation. (And it's SO much more relaxing than jostling with the Black Friday crowds in the stores!)

Happy Shopping!

More items for your South Africa shopping basket:

  1. Marmite. By request of Clara, of Expat Partner Survival fame. Know that I'm only doing this in the spirit of US-UK cooperation. It's a nod to our English friends, including Clara, that we support them despite their serious lapse of taste. Whoever came up with a spread that tastes like you took a bunch of Knorr chicken bouillon cubes and mashed them up with some vegetable oil and molasses? Only the Brits, that's who! It's the biggest scam ever that UK parents pull on their kids, serving them Marmite on their toast and making them buy into the notion that it's yummy, so that they grow up and their senses are so warped that they honestly think Marmite is such a desirable food item as to order it from overseas when living far from home. But as I said, we like to support our friends here and besides, this is a list of reader favorites, so there you are. (By the way, isn't another horrible spread named Bovril the SA equivalent of Marmite? And who lays claim to that other one, Vegemite?)
  2. Nutella. For those of you like me who now have an urge to counteract that salty pungent taste in their mouth that the Marmite left behind, here is a nice treat - as my husband, with the fitting name of Noisette would attest, the greatest invention of mankind. Mind you, Nutella can be bought no problem in South Africa, but typically in much smaller jars. Whereas here in the U.S. you can get gigantic jars of it. Although that can be deceiving. The very cheapest Nutella can be found in Germany. While the above link will take you to Amazon.com where the pictured jar (33.5 oz) is sold for $18.33, on Amazon.de you can find a 450g jar, which is about half that size, for €2.49. Times two equals €4.98 which translates to $5.31, which is a whopping $13.02 cheaper than the U.S. price for the same amount of Nutella. Soooo - you might want to hold off on the Nutella purchases if you're coming from the U.S. I really only listed it here to get that funny taste out of my mouth.
  3.  Graham Crackers. Lara wanted to make sure I added those. I think one can make a nice living without these, but I will say they are definitely gentler on your teeth than a South African rusk. 
  4.  Hershey's Chocolate. Now, while I agree that chocolate is much nicer on the tastebuds than a certain pungent salty spread, I still have to make a little fun of this one. Only someone growing up on Hershey's chocolate will think that this is the best chocolate in the world. It is really more like the most mediocre chocolate in the world, if you compare it to Lindt or Milka, but I do realize that American expats are going to want their Hershey's bars when overseas, if only to sit around a campfire and make S'mores (with the addition of the Graham Crackers plus the next item on my list). You're going to encounter plenty of campfires and braais in South Africa, and plenty of balmy evenings to sit around them to roast marshmallows (which are perfectly easy to source in South African stores).
  5.   S'more forks. To supplement above two items, while you're at it. I'm sure it will go over well with your South African host when you bring those the next time you're invited over and stick them into his braai.
  6.  Indoor S'mores kit. Digressing a little bit here, but I couldn't resist. This might make a great present for the soon-to-be-departing expat in your midst. 
  7.  Toilet Paper. I know you will now say Here she goes again, given my track record of toilet talk, but this was Anne's idea, not mine. She strongly felt that toilet paper should be on the list if you move from the U.S. to Europe, because your bum will thank you. Toilet paper in German and apparently Switzerland can be quite harsh on your nether regions, to put it mildly. Although it still beats the kind I remember from traveling to France as a kid and feeling very confused when what came out of the dispenser at the public restroom had the feel of those sheets of waxed paper you use at the grocery store to grab donuts with to put into a paper bag. You know, shiny and slick. Totally does not do the job of toilet paper. What were they thinking? Anyway, I feel quite strongly that Charmin Ultra is the best TP there is. I didn't really miss American toilet paper in SA, so it must have been okay. Definitely not European. But I'm putting old Charmin Ultra on this list anyway.
  8.  Lipton Onion Soup. Suggested by Darleen. Guys, this is another American thing. You have no idea how useful this is for us. It's sort of like the baking soda of food - you can simply make anything with it. At any given Thanksgiving potluck I bet you that at least 5 out of 10 side dish casseroles have Lipton Onion Soup mix in them. Anytime a non-American would just add a little salt and pepper and perhaps some Worcester Sauce, the American cook will reach for the Lipton Onion Soup packet. Brilliant stroke of marketing by Lipton, I must say.
  9.  Cheerios. How could I have forgotten those? My favorite are Honey Nut Cheerios. I don't eat them often, as I hardly ever eat sweetened cereal, but when I do, there is no stopping. they are SO good! Are they really not for sale in South Africa? Or maybe just more expensive?
  10.    Pencils with erasers.Yellow pencils are almost as quaint an American institution as yellow school buses. But Darleen, who suggested these, is onto something. Thinking back, I realize that all the pencils I bought in SA over the years did not have any erasers on them. The kids didn't seem to mind, so I never missed those. What I missed more was my automatic pencil sharpener, another great American invention. Ours died the first week when someone plugged it into a 220V outlet without the transformer. Poof! (Please see the previous list for the transformer. You definitely need one of those, not just to operate your pencil sharpener.)
  11.  Not-Starbucks Coffee. I got the message loud and clear that Starbucks was NOT something greatly missed by most, so to make up for this lapse, I thought I'd feature the coffee brand that was highly recommended by Jeff as a great alternative - Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC.

On that note, I'll take my leave for today, because the coffee beans reminded me that my morning cappuccino beckons. And wouldn't you know it, combined with the previous list, I'm now at a nice and tidy number of 30. Now I can sleep easier.

Do let me know your comments and suggestions. I'm sure we'll meet again for some more online shopping in the near future!


November 23, 2015

19 Things to Put on Your Shopping List for South Africa

So you've gotten the job offer in South Africa. You've gotten scared by and then gotten over the crime statistics. You've researched schools and neighborhoods. Your visa is in the works, and you've scheduled to have your household goods packed and shipped. The container arrives a month from now.

One month, you say? Then it's high time you went (online) shopping! (Bearing in mind that I've timed this blog post with Black Friday coming up this week, you need to definitely get online ASAP and click that mouse like there is no tomorrow).

You might now argue that South Africa is a civilized country. They have perfectly fine stores there, and they probably carry most everything you typically shop for in your everyday life.

And while yes, that is generally true - and I'm the first one to promote buying local and adapting your shopping list - I will also tell you that there are some things that you will want to stock up on or invest in while you have Amazon at your fingertips. Moving is stressful enough, and it's nice to be surrounded by the comforts of home those first few months without stressing out about where to find stuff.

To make it easier, I've put together a shopping list for you, based on my own experience as well as input from my readers. All items are either picked because I've used them before or based on favorable reviews.

Top Nineteen items for your South Africa shopping basket:

  1. Ziploc bags. They are just not quite the same over there. While you're at it, throw in some saran wrap (the kind with the super-cool glider) and Reynolds wrap. You will save yourself a lot of cursing over the local substitute ripping in all the wrong places, or not at all.
  2. Sneakers/tennis shoes for the whole family. Shoes are expensive in South Africa, so you'll want to buy these ahead. Think how much fun this will be. If you have kids, consider buying extra pairs a size up, and also think about specialty athletic footwear like soccer cleats.
  3. Travel plug adapters. You'll need a good number of these, because power outlets in South Africa will not only not fit your appliances brought from abroad, they will also not fit the appliances you buy in South Africa. I'd get at least 10, if not 20 of these universal outlet adapters which served us well during our Joburg Expat years. You'll want enough to have a few for each room.
  4. A step-down/step-up transformer. That's what you'll need for those appliances I just mentioned that you are bringing from home (if that home is the U.S. or Japan - if you're coming from Europe or most parts of Asia you are in luck, your appliances already run on 220V).
  5. Starbucks coffee beans. I know I know, there are some wonderful coffee shops in Johannesburg and beyond, but these will go a long way for you. Just think of what a great gift the occasional bag of Starbucks beans will make for when you're invited over to another expat's house and want to impress them with something special. If you're really feeling in a shopping mood, get yourself a DeLonghi espresso and cappuccino maker. Which will work nicely with the step-down transformer you just purchased!
  6. Motrin, Advil, or other Ibuprofen. I know they have Ibuprofen in South Africa, but I always struggled with finding it, especially getting it in the same kind of discounted volume packs as you can buy in the U.S.
  7. Mexican chili powder. South Africans, when asked about chili powder, will tell you all day long that yes, it's available everywhere. But just bear in mind that South Africans don't know much about Mexican food. Chili powder is not chili powder! It's going to be hard enough not going out for Mexican food while living in South Africa due to a serious lack of Mexican restaurants, so do yourself a favor and at least bring the right spices so you can cook it yourself!
  8. A Kindle. A country with the trifecta of a) books being unusually expensive, b) the library system being seriously lacking, and c) your spending inordinate amounts of time in various queues lining up for utility or government services where you'll be well advised to carry a reading device with you at all times - such a country creates the perfect storm for a Kindle. Trust me on this one. Don't leave home without it, and if you don't have one, order one. Order one for each child. Order one for each member of your household!
  9. Real books. All my praise for the Kindle notwithstanding, there is something to be said about real books, in the flesh. Do yourself a favor and stock up on some of the best. They will come in handy for reading in a lounge chair by the pool while Eskom is load-shedding and your internet is down.
  10. Pepperoni. Okay, a bit dodgy to wedge a few pack of pepperoni between your underwear, but my kids lamented the fact that you could not find a pepperoni pizza in all of South Africa. Domino's Pizza has since arrived, but pepperoni still isn't sold there in supermarkets should you want to make your own pizza. Salami yes, and good variety too, but pepperoni no. 
  11. Battery-operated alarm clocks. If you're an American, one of your first errands will be buying an alarm clock, because none of your old ones will work due to the difference in voltage (even if you bought the above transformer, you won't have one of those for every room). Instead of buying an electronic alarm to plug into an outlet, given the more frequent power interruptions you might face in South Africa, buy small battery-run alarms for the entire family. 
  12. Plastic clothes hangers.  I remember from my early SA days that I struggled finding these. I eventually bought them off a street vendor, which started a long tradition of buying hard-to-find things off street vendors, but if I were you I'd buy them cheaply in the U.S. or wherever you live and pack them in your container.
  13. Viva paper towels. You have no idea how bad paper towels are in South Africa. You might as well use toilet paper to wipe your counter. If you've ever used Viva before, there is no turning back. 
  14. Skittles. As per my friend Karen, a Skittles addict, the Skittles landscape in South Africa is barren indeed. While you're at it, might as well also load up on jelly beans
  15. Picture-hanging strips. Have I ever told you about the Insurmountable Picture Hanging Project involving South Africa's concrete walls? Power tools here we come! Much easier to use the powerful 3M stuff you can get at Amazon.
  16. Barbara's Bakery Shredded Oats Cereal. While this may sound weird to you (it does to me), my friend Heather swears by this as a must-have staple to import from the U.S. It's ironic, because the thing I miss most IN the U.S. is Woolworth's Luxury Muesli Cereal, but to each their own. I thought I should mention the shredded oats here on Heather's behalf. If not Shredded Oats, perhaps you have another favorite cereal you might order in bulk from Amazon to pack into your container.
  17. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Again, I can't say I missed this in South Africa, but one of my readers, Lauren, is quite sure that this was the staple she most ardently missed while in South Africa. If you're a Kraft Dinner fan too, then what are you waiting for? Put it in your shopping basket now. Your kids will be thankful.
  18. Swiffer duster refills. Reader Lisa swears that these are must-haves. Funny story: I arrived in South Africa with a Costco's supply of Swiffer wet refills in our container. Having a live-in maid there, I never really used any of them. So they moved back to the States with us 3 years later. And you know what? They were still wet. After three years in one of the driest climates on Earth. Talk about good packaging!
  19. O.B. Tampons. Male readers: Will you please cover your ears for a second while we discuss Female Stuff ? I spent the first half of our stay in South Africa chasing my favorite tampon brand, O.B. They came in the tiniest packs, if at all, so I always stocked up on them at home. Until one day I was completely out and had to make do with the local brand, Lil-Lets, and guess what? They were pretty awesome.

Haven't had enough yet? Check out 11 More Things to Put on your Shopping List for South Africa. The best of luck for your big move, and don't worry if you didn't get to buy any of these supplies. You just might survive even without them!